UFC 291 takes place tomorrow night in Salt Lake City, Utah and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Five years after their first back-and-forth battle, which Poirier’s won via TKO in the 4th round, Poirier and Gaethje will clash again for the symbolic ‘BMF’ belt. Poirier comes into the fight off a submission win over Michael Chandler, while Gaethje defeated Rafael Fiziev by majority decision.
Poirier and Gaethje have consistently been two of the most exciting fighters on the roster, and a large part of that is down to the fact they are both excellent strikers who embrace a high output style, though not at the expense of accuracy. I’d give Poirier the edge when it comes to pure boxing technique and he cleverly uses angles to set up his attacks, while he’s also more sound defensively and has great stamina.
Gaethje has reigned in his reckless aggression a bit since their last fight and is more selective with his strikes than he was, but he’s still a warhorse who favors a pressure-heavy offensive style. He is the heavier handed fighter of the two and his brutal leg kicks could be an important weapon since Poirier doesn’t defend against those as well as he should.
Gaethje also has a wrestling background, but rarely uses it in his fights. Poirier’s takedown defense isn’t impenetrable, but he can scramble well and threaten with submissions, which could be a problem for Gaethje, who has been submitted in his last two losses (as has Poirier, but he’ll be less concerned about it since Gaethje doesn’t have much of an offensive submission game).
It’s hard to predict the outcome as it has all the makings of another extremely close fight and both have the ability to finish the other. However, I lean slightly towards Poirier here, as I think he will be more defensively sound and more strategic with his striking in the heat of the moment, while also having the advantage in cardio in the later rounds of the fight to edge out a hard-fought decision win.
Pick: Dustin Poirier wins by decision.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Alex Pereira
There’s a clash of former titleholders in the co-main event as former middleweight champion Pereira steps up a weight class to take on a former light-heavyweight champion.
Pereira is following the same path as his rival Adesanya, who challenged Blachowicz for the 205lbs belt in March of 2021 but lost by decision. And as a former kickboxer himself, Pereira may well have the same problem that Adesanya did since Blachowicz has a robust wrestling game and good grappling to go with it.
Of course Blachowicz is also a good striker with solid boxing ability and packs a punch, but there are levels to the striking game and Pereira is one of the best at it with high-level technique and he has ferocious power in his punches and kicks. Pereira will be more naturally aggressive than Adesanya was in this match-up, and he’s more suited to the weight class too, even holding a 2″ height and reach advantage over Blachowicz.
So if the fight stays on the feet I feel Pereira’s chances of finding a finish are high. That being said I fully expect Blachowicz to use his superior ground game here to control the action on top and set up a 2nd round submission finish.
Pick: Jan Blachowicz wins by submission in Rd2.
Tony Ferguson vs. Bobby Green
Ferguson is continuing to dismiss talk of retirement despite a rough five-fight losing streak in recent years and at 39-years-old remains determined to prove his doubters wrong as he returns to action against the 36-year-old Green, who has also experienced turbulent times of late, suffering two losses in a row via strikes last year and then having a fight end in a no-contest due to an accidental head-butt a few months ago.
Ferguson used to be a formidable opponent with his relentless offense and creativity on the feet and on the ground, as well as his incredible durability, but a brutal five-round beatdown by Justin Gaethje back in 2020 marked the start of a troubling decline for the star. He can no longer absorb punches like he used to, and that’s a major weakness given his naturally attrition-based style of fighting, while some fighters have also found success controlling him on the mat too.
Green is a confident, crafty boxer who uses unorthodox angles and rolls well with the punches coming his way to land shots while avoiding damage. He can also grapple if needed, but in this instance will be wary of Ferguson’s tricky submission game and scrambling ability.
Green may not be a big power puncher, but I think Ferguson’s compromised chin means that won’t necessarily be an issue here and I think he finds a 2nd round TKO finish here.
Pick: Bobby Green wins by TKO in Rd2.
Stephen Thompson vs. Michel Pereira
Thompson bounced back from two losses in a row when he TKO’d Kevin Holland late last year and now he faces Pereira, who is on a five-fight winning streak in the UFC.
This is a fight that striking fans won’t want to miss as both fighters are special talents in that department. Thompson has textbook kickboxing skills with amazing dexterity and speed in his legs that allow him to land head kicks as easily as most fighters throw jabs. That being said he’s not the biggest finisher, but is instead an expert at outpointing opponents with his counter-striking and distance management.
However, Thompson is 40-years-old now and even though he still seems as nimble as ever, his style relies on his speed and reflexes, which can’t last forever. He’s also struggled against top-level wrestlers, but against most others it’s hard to get him down.
Pereira is a much younger striker at 29-years-old. Even before his UFC run he was being hailed for his acrobatic capoeira-style offense and stunning knockouts, but it became harder to consistently make that work for him once he reached the UFC and he would tend to gas out if all his efforts didn’t deliver the finish he was looking for.
However, Pereira has done well to adapt his wild style into something more efficient and effective, while still showing flashes of his natural creativity and dynamism at times. In addition he’s also demonstrated some respectable wrestling skills too. It means he’s no longer the highlight-reel finishing machine he once was, but it’s led to a consistent string of wins in the Octagon.
So Pereira has a good chance of winning this fight since he is much younger than Thompson and has the striking ability to beat anyone. However, Pereira is essentially trying to be more like Thompson these days with his more toned down, strategic approach, and in the end I still think ‘Wonderboy’ is a master of that style and will prove to be more effective on the counter to help edge out a win on the scorecards.
Pick: Stephen Thompson wins by decision.
Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Holland
Chiesa has been out for over two years after back-to-back losses ended his winning streak at 170lbs and now he returns to take on Holland, who bounced back from a couple of losses with a KO finish of Santiago Ponzinibbio last time out.
The 35-year-old has never been much of a striker and lacks power too, so I don’t think he’ll be eager to test himself against a talented striker like Holland in that regard. He doesn’t have particularly great takedown entries either, but when Chiesa can get his hands on his opponent he suddenly becomes a real problem as he’s strong in the clinch, has good top control on the mat and he’s proven to be adept at taking the back and finishing fights via rear-naked choke.
That’s something that Holland will be very mindful of here as his takedown defense is known to be his biggest weakness and he struggles to get back upright once he’s on the mat. It is something he’s worked to improve on and he does actually have respectable wrestling offense and a submission threat, but nonetheless he’ll be as eager to avoid the mat as Chiesa is to avoid extended striking exchanges.
Holland is faster, more athletic, hits way harder and has a 2″ height and 5.5″ reach advantage into the bargain, so there’s plenty of reasons to like his chances of finding a finish here, but I think Chiesa’s dogged dedication to getting the fight to the floor will once again prove to be his undoing, leading to a second round submission finish.
Pick: Michael Chiesa wins by submission in Rd2.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Trevin Giles vs. Gabriel Bonfim
Derrick Lewis vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Roman Kopylov vs. Claudio Ribeiro
Miranda Maverick vs. Priscila Cachoeira
Jake Matthews vs. Darius Flowers
Matthew Semelsberger vs. Yohan Lainesse
CJ Vergara vs. Vinicius Salvador